Menopause is the term used when a woman stops having periods. This usually occurs between the ages of 45 to 55. On average, women in the UK get to the menopause stage at age 51.
This guide will take you through your menopause timeline, helping to settle any worries and speculation.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Menopausal women experience various symptoms. Some are mild while others are severe enough to affect your daily activities. Some of the common symptoms of menopause include:
- Night sweats
- Hot flushes
- Mood problems
- Reduced sex drive
- Dryness in the vagina
- Lack of focus
- Discomfort during sex
- Hair thinning
- Memory problems
- Increase hair growth in the face, upper back, chest, and face
- Increased need to urinate
These menopausal symptoms can begin months to years before your period stops. And they usually last for four years after your last menstruation.
What are the causes of menopause?
One word: hormones. Menopause is caused by ageing ovaries that produce less reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone). One of the most prominent changes during menopause is the loss of ovarian follicles which are responsible for producing and releasing eggs.
Menopause can also be induced --- either by surgery or injury. Induced menopause often occurs after:
- Surgical removal of the ovaries
- The shutdown of ovary function which is done by surgery, radiotherapy, or hormone therapy
- Injuries that damage the ovaries
- Pelvic radiation
What are the stages of menopause?
The menopause timeline has four stages, named:
- Early menopause
Let’s discuss each phase below:
Perimenopause (before menopause stage)
The perimenopause phase begins about three to five years before menopause. During this time, levels of estrogen hormones in your body begin to drop causing you to experience symptoms like hot flushes, elevated heart rate, mood changes, insomnia, urinary issues, vaginal dryness, and irregular menstrual cycles.
Despite these symptoms, there's still a huge chance that you can get pregnant during this time (the late 40s). If you don't want to get pregnant, continue using your chosen form of contraception.
Aside from natural ageing, early menopause can also be caused by certain events including:
Removal of your uterus (Hysterectomy): Menopause symptoms appear gradually after this event.
Removal of your ovaries (Oophorectomy): Menopause symptoms appear almost immediately.
Premature ovarian failure: A condition usually caused by underactive/inactive ovaries. This can be a result of surgery, genetics, radiation, chemotherapy, having insufficient follicles that produce eggs.
Most women in the UK enter the menopause stage when they are between 51 and 52 years old. It is classed as menopause once you’ve missed your period for 12 consecutive months without illness, medication, or pregnancy.
During this stage, it is important to understand that every woman reacts to menopause differently. Some women experience a few mild symptoms while others go through severe episodes. The transition from menopause to post-menopause usually lasts between one to three years.
Postmenopause (after menopause stage)
The post-menopause phase usually begins one year after your last period. Menopausal symptoms that you experience during the perimenopause and menopause stages are likely to continue during this stage. The decrease in the levels of estrogen hormones in your body will also increase your risks of developing osteoporosis, osteopenia, and heart disease.
How to cope with menopause
If your symptoms are severe or affecting your daily life, seek treatment from your GP. If you are still under 60 years old, your doctor will usually recommend hormone therapy to help relieve hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal atrophy, osteoporosis, and other menopausal symptoms.
Aside from medical treatments, you can also make some lifestyle changes to help to cope with menopause. Here are some things you can do at home:
Keep yourself comfortable – especially at night, keep yourself cool and comfortable by wearing loose clothing. Stay away from heavy blankets. When you are outside, carry a portable fan with you in case you experience hot flushes.
Manage your weight – menopause can cause weight gain. When you are in menopause, manage your weight by reducing your daily caloric intake by 400-600 calories. Keep yourself active for at least 30 minutes each day.
Take supplements – vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D can help improve your sleep and energy levels. Calcium, in particular, can help against osteoporosis. Your doctor should be able to advise you as to what supplements best fit your needs.
Take good care of your skin – skin dryness is a common symptom of menopause. Keep your skin hydrated and healthy by using moisturizers. Avoid excessive swimming and bathing as these can irritate your skin.
Limit alcohol and tobacco use – alcohol and tobacco can aggravate your symptoms so it’s best to limit your alcohol and tobacco consumption once you hit menopause.